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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 10: Young stars land in hot water over old tweets

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We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

I suppose it was only a matter of time. Time enough for those ballplayers who were young, immature and idiotic in the early days of social media to grow up and into the sort of prominence that might inspire people to look back at their young, immature and idiotic social media posts and show them to the world. That time came for four players this past season.

The first player called on to answer for his old tweets was Brewers reliever Josh Hader. On the same night he gave up four hits and a three-run homer to put the National League in a big hole in the All-Star Game, someone dug up through Hader’s Twitter history and found some ugly, ugly stuff in there, circa 2011-12. Specifically, Hader was found to have used the n-word, liberally, usually while quoting rap lyrics. He said “I hate gay people.” He said some super misogynistic stuff about wanting a woman who will cook and clean for him, among other pretty vile things. There were multiple references to cocaine. He said “I’ll murder your family” to one person and made some total non-sequitur tweet simply saying “KKK.” You name a social media etiquette line that one can cross and Hader not only crossed it, but he totally and gleefully trampled over it.

Soon several others would join Hader in the “oh no, someone found my crappy old tweets!” club. In late July — as he had a no-hitter going against the Dodgers — someone found old tweets from Braves starter Sean Newcomb in which he used offensive language including racist and homophobic slurs. The next day Nationals infielder Trea Turner’s tweets from his college days — primarily involving homophobic slurs — were unearthed. In late August White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech‘s old tweets, rife with casual use of racial slurs, racial stereotypes and, of course, homophobia came to light.

What followed each reveal was pretty much the same. The deletion of said tweets. A cursory apology in which the player claimed “that’s not who I am” while neglecting to actually own up to the fact that that was, at the very least, who he was not so long ago. They then each got league-mandated sensitivity training and participation in diversity initiatives.

Despite how insufficient these apologies were, — all of these guys want credit for who they claim to be in their heart-of-hearts while being absolved of what they actually did — the baseball world, predictably and immediately, moved on. Hader even got a standing ovation from Brewers fans in his first home start back. Something tells me that if Hader were black and, rather than having some bad tweets, he took an unpopular political stance, he would not have been embraced so warmly by the crowd, but I suppose that’s a topic for another day.

In any event, by the time the playoffs came around the Twitter business was largely forgotten. Hader pitched his Brewers into the NLCS and it went mostly unmentioned. As far as I can tell, no assessment of the Braves,’ Nats’ or White Sox’ 2018 seasons or looks ahead to their 2019 seasons has given Newcomb’s, Turner’s or Kopech’s Twitter transgressions the slightest notice and, obviously, it’s not costing these guys any money or negatively impacting their baseball careers in any way. Contrary to what so many who are quick to defend guys like these claim, there were no P.C. lynch mobs or attacks from brigades of social justice warriors impeding their lives or livelihoods in the slightest way. They were all fended off, it seems, by a team-written “I’m sorry if I offended anyone, that’s not who I am” statement.

Whatever the case, one figures that this will be the end of this sort of mini-scandal. I mean, while it was perhaps understandable for Hader to be burned by something old and dumb he once tweeted since it was an unprecedented situation in baseball circles, it’s hard to get your brain around other players’ tweets coming to light. After all, if you’re a public figure like that and you see the sort of heat Hader’s moronic tweets bought him, wouldn’t you simply delete every tweet you ever made? God knows if I was the agent of young players or their general manager I’d tell them to do so. Maybe Newcomb, Turner and Kopech were slow to mash that delete button, but by now you figure everyone else has.

Then again, that takes a little bit of sense, and the sorts of guys who would spew racist and homophobic crap in a public forum already have a lack of that to begin with, right? Maybe a ballplayer who is caught saying racist stuff is being honest when they say “that’s not who I am,” but most of us retain a whole heck of a lot more of our younger selves than we care to admit. Perhaps that whole “I should delete my old tweets” thing has fallen through the cracks for a few players.

Baseball returns: Mariners beat the Athletics in the first official game of the season

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I wake up super early almost every morning. Today was no exception. Unlike most days, however, I had more to look at than my cats and more to do than wait for the sunrise: there was baseball — baseball that counted — on my TV. The Mariners took on the A’s in the Tokyo Dome at 5:30AM — which was 6:30PM, Japan time — in the first official regular season game of the year.

As far as games go it was light on the pitching and, a few dingers aside, was light on excitement, with the Mariners beating the A’s 9-7. But hey, less-than-exciting baseball is better than most things, right?

Oakland jumped out to an early lead thanks to a two-out first inning homer by Stephen Piscotty off of M’s starter Marco Gonzalez. The A’s added a second run in the second thanks to a Chad Pinder single, a throwing error which advanced him to third and a Marcus Semien RBI single.

The top of the third provided some chills: Ichiro, batting ninth for Seattle, came to bat with no one out and a runner on first, facing A’s starter Mike Fiers. Flashbulbs popped and the Tokyo Dome crowd chanted his name. He popped out to the second baseman who caught it in shallow right, sadly, but still got an ovation as he walked to the dugout. One of the more exciting and emotional F4s you’ll see.

At that point the pitching took a powder. Dee Gordon would single in Tim Beckham later that inning to make the game 2-1, the M’s would load the bases and Domingo Santana would hit one out to the opposite field for a grand slam to make it 5-2. In the bottom of the third Khris Davis came up and hit a two-run blast to make it 5-4. They say the pitchers are ahead of the hitters early in the year but, uh, nah. By the way, it was the third straight Opening Day on which Davis has homered. The record is four. Mark your calendars for next year.

Ichiro came up again in the top of the fourth, again with a runner on first, this time facing Liam Hendriks instead of Fiers. He worked a 3-1 count, fouled one off to bring the count full, fouled one off his ankle, which looked like it hurt, fouled one that bounced off his back or arm or something which also looked like it hurt, and then took one in the dirt to draw the walk. Again, a bigger cheer than you get for most walks. Later in the inning Mitch Haniger hit a sac fly to make it 6-4.

The Mariners took the field for the bottom of the fourth. Before the inning began, M’s manager Scott Servais signaled to Ichiro in right, who came running back to the dugout. He was being taken out of the game, replaced by Jay Bruce, who moved out from first base, in such a way as to allow his teammates to give him hugs and to allow the Tokyo crowd to give Ichiro a standing ovation. A nice move from Servais. An 0-for-1, 1BB night on what may very well be the future Hall of Famer’s penultimate game.

Things sort of got out of hand after that. The M’s added three runs in the fifth, two of which came on a Beckham homer. It gave us our first bat flip of the season:

At that point my kids left for school and my wife left for work and the game sort of blended into the background of the morning. Matt Chapman hit a three-run bomb for the A’s in the 7th to make it 9-7, which is a score more appropriate for the glorified spring training game this truly was than a regular season tilt, but such is life. And that, after a couple of scoreless innings, was the ballgame.

It was a game that, in the grand scheme of things, means nothing beyond the stats it created and the smallest of small impacts it will have on season standings that will almost certainly not turn on this game. Which is to say it didn’t matter all that much. It was not a big event. It did not change our day nor impact it beyond the moments of enjoyment and amusement it gave us as it unfolded. It did not insist upon itself like so many games in other sports, TV shows and news events which unfold seem so hellbent on doing.

It just happened. As baseball, when it’s at its best, simply does. Welcome back.